MARC ALAN FISHMAN: To Sir, With Love… and Craposition
I’ve noticed lately the fine columnists here at ComicMix are paying tribute to a lovely woman I wish I could have met. It got my wheels turning. I’ve done plenty of moaning, groaning, hyping and griping up until now… but I’ve never paid tribute to those who helped shape me as I am. The desire to tell you all about my family is tempting, but it might be more apropos to give some love to special someone who directly changed the course of my career (and all of the subsequent creative endeavors). But enough preamble, eh? I want to pay homage to an amazing educator and mentor… Dean Auriemma.
Mr. Auriemma, or just Mr. A, was my high school art teacher for my sophomore and senior year in high school. Unlike your stereotypical art educator you might think of, he taught those willing to learn that art is a scholarly endeavor as much as math or science. A bit of backstory: The “art track” at my high school was a true four year journey, meant to be taken chronologically, ultimately ending with A.P. (that’s Advanced Placement, or college level) Studio Art. Well, the art bug bit me a year late, so I ended up taking both the junior and senior level courses both in my senior year. It wasn’t unheard of (as I recall one other student joined me in this undertaking), but it was certainly challenging. But I digress.
Mr. A made art hard. For me, this was (and still is) the most exhilarating concept I’ve ever wrapped my head around. You see, I was a very good student. Took all honors classes. Graduated in the top 5% of my class (of over 600 students). I’d happily admit that I coasted throughout High School without sweating over tests, and grades, and memorization. Not that I didn’t work hard mind you, but no class outside of Mr. A’s A.P. Studio Art ever put me in my place quicker. Mr. A never pulled a punch.
During critiques, he would tell me that I couldn’t draw my way out of a paper bag. He said my artistic prowess could best be described as “Craposition”… a term so beloved by the class, we used it as the title to our class mix tape. Best of all? His words rang true, because they absolutely were. I sucked. Beyond the harsh words though, came true support. Mr. Auriemma took time with me to show me where my strengths were, how to hone (and hide) my weaknesses, and explore not only technical proficiency but conceptual development at the same time.
One fond memory that sticks in my craw even today were Mr. A’s dreaded Gallery Journal entries. He forced our class to go to galleries every month and truly look (and write about) art. He challenged us to critique accepted “masterpieces” instead of simply enjoying them. He deconstructed a world most simply adhere to accept. In short, he forced each and every one of his students to take an intellectual leap beyond “I like this.” Most important, when I spoke and wrote of my love of comic books, and that art form, Mr. A did not once scoff. He knew that masters like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, and the modern artists that inspired me like Alex Ross and Mike Mignola, should be studied as much as Renoir, Titian, or Bacon. All art was equal in his class, so long as you could apply the lessons he taught to them.
The best panels and issues of modern comic books utilize complex composition, juxtaposition of focal points, value balance, and harmony all to visually communicate what only a 1000 words might. Again, I can’t hit on this fact enough; where some art teachers hand you a canvas and a brush and tell you to let your mind go wild… Mr. Auriemma did it too, but forced you to use the skills and tools honed over time to produce more than whimsy and feelings.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out Mr. A’s lesson plan. Tough love gave me the drive to do better. His “acceptance” was earned through hard work and dedication. It was a tribute to these abilities that drove so many of us alumni to trek back to the hallowed halls of Homewood-Flossmoor High just so we could show him what we were doing in college. Certainly when Unshaven Comics published its first graphic novel, I raced back to his class room to show that I’d learned to draw out of that paper bag. OK, I won’t lie. Matt drew the first book… I just colored, lettered, and co-wrote it. But like JD looking for that hug from Dr. Cox on Scrubs, I wanted that approving “Good job, buddy” like Courtney Love wants attention.
Not even a few years after I’d been away at college, Mr. Auriemma got his masters in Education, became a top-notch school administrator, and is still to this day (to the best of my knowledge) now a principal. I dare you to find another Art Teacher that took that path. I bet you find a bunch of paint-strained smocks, and some weed.
Suffice to say, Dean Auriemma instilled in me a drive and determination that exists to this day. In fact, I happily admit that my love of A.P. Studio Art was so great, Matt and I still meet every Friday to work on our art projects. We may have grown beards, got wives, had sons, and bought houses… but thanks to Mr. A, we’re still just two kids in class, hoping one day to make it in the business. And if this bit of brown-nosing doesn’t land me that damned ‘A’ I’ve been after… I don’t know what will.
SUNDAY: John Ostrander and Humphrey Bogart